Tag: word origins

Orson-Welles-Show-1941

Where does the phrase ‘know where the bodies are buried’ come from?

It’s probably not too much of a surprise that Orson Welles’s greatest contribution to language comes from his greatest contribution to cinema. Following the rise and fall of fictional newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane, Welles’s 1941 film Citizen Kane is regarded by many as one of the greatest films ever made, and it also contains […]

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fajitas Tex Mex

Tex-Mex terms in English

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines Tex-Mex as ‘a Texan style of cooking using Mexican ingredients and characterized by the adaptation of Mexican dishes, frequently with more moderate use of hot flavourings such as chilli; food cooked in this style.’ It is no secret, however, that plenty of the most common items on the Tex-Mex table are unambiguously […]

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fight of the century

12 boxing metaphors you hear all the time

Although the sport still enjoys a relatively large following today, the huge popularity that boxing had over a century ago is obvious when you look at the impact that the sport has had on the English language. In fact, there are plenty of common boxing terms and situations that you use in a figurative sense […]

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shoes

Something’s afoot: investigating the names for shoes

Whether you’re a shoe aficionado or somebody who regards footwear as merely something to help avoid standing on nails, you might be interested in the etymological backgrounds to the names of some common varieties of shoe. We’ve taken five of them, and traced their – perhaps surprising – linguistic histories… Clog You probably know that […]

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dragon

Guns, herbs, and sores: inside the dragon’s etymological lair

23 April marks St. George’s Day. While St. George is widely venerated throughout Christian communities, England especially honors him, its patron saint, on this day. Indeed, his cross, red on a white field, flies as England’s flag. St. George, of course, is legendary for the dragon he slew, yet St. George bested the beast in legend alone. From Beowulf to The Game of Thrones, this […]

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tax

What is the origin of the term ‘scot-free’?

To ‘get off scot-free’ means ‘to get away with something without being punished’. Since the familiar English word Scot refers to a native or inhabitant of Scotland, it is tempting to assume that this is a reference to that country. Indeed, that association seems to have existed since at least the 1500s, when the alternative […]

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W. Tecumseh Sherman

8 words with American Civil War origins

Not only did the American Civil War have immense political ramifications, it also had a major impact on American culture, and even exerted some influence on the language. The following terms all either emerged directly from, or have senses which were directly influenced by, the conflict. 1. Deadline As much angst as the word deadline […]

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symbols

Signs and symbols: the names of punctuation marks

Chances are that you use them every day – from ‘ to # and ? to . – but where did common punctuation marks get their names? Ampersand The ampersand is the sign &, used to mean ‘and’. The shape of the symbol originated as a ligature for the Latin et (‘and’) – that is, […]

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